August 9, 2018

Good evening.

I must start with a confession – before 1986, I was the quintessential town girl. Growing up, I had neither friends nor family to visit down south and so my only contact with this part of the country were primary school field trips to the Navet Dam and the Pitch Lake.

My epiphany came about when I was banished, as I saw it, to work in San Fernando for a too frank expression of my views at my then office. From the moment of my arrival in this strange and wonderful place I was captivated by its calf-developing hills and in the middle of town to boot, the friendliness and courtesy of the people, and the labyrinth that is your traffic flow which I suspect was designed to charm, if befuddle, the unsuspecting driver from up north.

Between 1986 and 2005 I worked intermittently though frequently in San Fernando as State Counsel and then Judge. I remember fondly the unfailingly polite and respectful lawyers with whom I had the pleasure to work. The staff was always pleasant, cooperative and diligent. I would describe the entire ambience as being one of old world courtesies.

This evening marks my third visit to San Fernando in the five months since becoming President and I am pleased to report that my impression has not changed- the ‘old world courtesies’ so graciously extended to me in the past are replicated this evening and for that I thank His Worship the Mayor for hosting this cocktail reception in my honour and giving me the opportunity to meet Members of the Council and the administrative arm of the Corporation as well as some of your distinguished citizens.

In his gracious letter of invitation His Worship asked me to deliver and I quote, “a short speech on matters of interest.” He didn’t say of interest to whom and so I began composing something that spoke of good books, the technicality of cultivating orchids and the thrill of ballroom dancing.

Then I said to myself, “Self, there must be some code in those words!” And after deep thought I decided that what His Worship was communicating to me was that I should keep it brief, topical and relevant. And of interest to you.

This is the second most populous city in Trinidad and Tobago behind Chaguanas and boasts, perhaps justifiably, of being the most important city in this nation. San Fernando and the southland in general have undoubtedly been the cradle of a not insignificant number of our country’s prominent individuals: Presidents, Prime Ministers, Sportsmen and women, Labour Leaders, Artistes and Entertainers-a veritable embarrassment of riches.

The lands and resources of south Trinidad have literally and figuratively fuelled the economy and in yet another act of graciousness the south has shared its wealth with the rest of the country.

All of the foregoing makes the southland well-positioned to be a driving force for the improvement and development of our society.

In my inauguration speech I signalled my intention to define within prescribed limits my role as President. While this will no doubt be an ongoing exercise some defining and refining have already taken place. I now see myself as a facilitator of collaboration between individuals and/or organisations to pre-empt a duplication of efforts and the consequent waste of scarce resources; as a devil’s advocate for the purpose of ensuring that there is a thorough examination of motives and strategies of nascent and long-existing associations as they promote programmes which purport to improve the society; as a gentle teller of bald truths who will tell it as it is rather than tell people what they want to hear.

So, this year marks the City of San Fernando’s 30th year; having attained city status on November 18, 1988. You are beyond mere adulthood and now at the sobering point at which greater accountability and responsibility is expected and at the age to take stock of one’s achievements, purpose and direction. So if I may borrow and edit the lyrics of calypsonian Funny’s Independence 1987 offering: San Fernando 30 years have gone, how you feel?

You have not escaped delinquency, drug abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, undocumented migration, the scourge of crime and other ills which beset the entire nation.

So as a community in all the manifestations represented here this evening, what is your plan?

The motto of the San Fernando City Corporation is Sanitas Fortis-In a Healthy Environment We Will Find Strength. Might that be a rallying cry from which individuals and organisations take their direction?

Of course, a “healthy environment” would include the physical environment.

Not long ago, I attended the Environmental Management Authority’s (EMA) Green Leaf Award held at the Southern Academy for Performing Arts raising environmental awareness from beautification of the landscape to the more immediate focus on proper disposal of plastics and the reduction in their use. I was therefore quite pleased to note the July 23rd launch of the Curbside Recycling Initiative with SWMCOL and the San Fernando City Corporation partnering to combat a national problem. I congratulate the Corporation because apart from the roles previously mentioned I have also taken on the role of giving praise where it is due. Is this initiative being complemented and supported by other groups who have a vested interest in the welfare and well-being of San Fernando? If not, maybe it is time to ask yourselves why not?

But a healthy environment means more than a clean scene. It will also include having our young people involved in wholesome and productive activities which will put them on a trajectory to becoming valuable contributing adults in our developing society. They need to be the subject of fewer projects and more germane programmes, not simply those that have been in existence from time immemorial but new issues-specific, targeted initiatives that take into account today’s realities.

There are many plans for our youth. Have they been consulted on what they need and want? Have we discovered the best way to communicate with them in these modern times? Have we convinced them that the outcomes will be to their benefit?

Recently, many well-meaning individuals and organisations have passed through the Office of the President with strategies of by-gone times which are doomed to fail today unless while keeping true to their foundational principles, they re-engineer their methods to meet our young people where and how they are. So while I thank them for their willingness to be part of the solution, I challenge them, as I challenge you, to be sensitive, responsive and flexible in dealing with the issues that bedevil many of our youth.

A nurturing family life is also an integral part of a healthy environment. The society is a macrocosm of the family. Problems which plague families such as domestic violence and drug use must be addressed with understanding and compassion, but also with resolve. We need vigilance, intervention, treatment and where necessary, enforcement of the law to ensure that we, where possible, head off the problems at the pass and where that fails, we provide both victim and perpetrator with viable paths back to wholeness. San Fernandians have consistently demonstrated an abundance of creativity, energy and fortitude.

Can these be harnessed to effect significant improvement in the quality of life within our homes and schools? Can we bite off only as much as we can chew at a time and produce measurable and beneficial results where dysfunction exists?

My many questions may seem to be rhetorical since it cannot be expected that you would answer them here and now, but I would ask you to reflect on them at an appropriate time when you can give them honest and thorough consideration.

There is much more of which l could speak and Mayor Regrello ought to have known better than to ask any public official to deliver a “short speech”. But in my best attempt to observe his wishes I will close now by saying that much good has come out of San Fernando that evinces your strength, your commitment and your resilience.

I urge you to redouble your efforts. Fortunately you don’t have to contort yourselves too much to look forward while patting yourselves on the back. As you have led the way in the economic transformation of the nation, so too I implore you to take the lead in the sorely needed social transformation of Trinidad and Tobago.

Thank you and good evening.